Slow Down Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease—nearly 16 million Americans have CAD—and the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.

It develops when the arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle become blocked by a buildup of cholesterol, a fatty, waxy substance called plaque, preventing enough blood and oxygen from getting to your heart.

As the amount of plaque builds on the inner walls of the arteries and the heart muscle has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body, you may start to feel chest pain (angina) or shortness of breath. If left untreated, CAD can lead to a heart attack.

While simply getting older or having a family history of the disease raises your risk for CAD (your risk is highest if your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 55 or your mother or sister developed the problem before the age of 65) the good news is that there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to prevent CAD or slow progression once it develops.

Here's how:

Quit smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for CAD. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, raising your blood pressure and forcing your heart to work harder.

Control your blood pressure

Have your doctor check your blood pressure level at least every two years—or more frequently if you already have high blood pressure or you have a history of heart disease. Ideally you should aim for blood pressure below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic mm Hg.

Stay active

Regular exercise can strengthen your heart, help you maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, as well as reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels. With your doctor's okay, a good goal is have 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most or all days of the week.

Eat a healthy diet

Choose foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight raises the risk of CAD, especially for people with large waist measurements—more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women—because having that body shape makes it more likely that you'll develop diabetes and heart disease.

If you're at risk for CAD, be sure to have regular medical checkups and talk with your doctor about what you should be doing in addition to lifestyle changes to help you maintain a healthy heart.



Sources: Masley, MD, Steven C. "Dietary Therapy for Preventing and Treating Coronary Artery Disease." Web. "Coronary Artery Disease Overview." Web.

MedlinePlus. "Coronary Artery Disease." Web.